Grandfather of LSD Meets the Acid Children
By Walter Barney
Examiner Staff Writer
SANTA CRUZ—He was the unlikeliest rock and roll star of all—a proper Swiss professor in a blue suit and black shoes. But the cheering, rousing reception given Dr. Albert Hofmann for his chemistry lecture at UC-Santa Cruz rivaled any every received by acid musicians. He inspired.
Hofmann is the alchemist who first synthesized LSD, the mindbending chemical that either unlocks the doors of perceptions or offers a quick trip into madness, depending on how you see it.
There was no doubt of the sympathies of Hofmann's audience here. They were a collection of psychedelic gurus and groupies gathered to celebrate a reawakened interest in Hofmann's project.
They greeted him with a standing ovation and followed his somewhat dry recitation of the discovery of the chemical structure of LSD with careful attention, frequently interrupting with applause, cheers and giggles.
Hofmann's description of his experiments on himself with LSD and psilocybin, the synthesized Mexican mushroom psychedelic, was followed with a more than academic interest by this group. They had taken the trip themselves.
Hofmann was introduced by Prof. Alexander Shulgin, UC-Berkeley toxicologist and inventor of the psychedelic known as STP, who said that since everyone in the room knew about the speaker he might better introduce the audience.
“We are artists, with pen or brush, who have looked into chemical changes of consciousness," Shulgin began, and the audience interrupted In cheers. They were also, he continued, sociologists, psychotherapists, philosophers, chemists and pharmacists.
"We are all students of an area of change of consciousness," he summed up, "and we all have deep respect and reverence for your work."
"You may have expected to meet a guru," Hofmann responded, "but you find instead just a chemist."
He then launched into a description of the chemistry and history of LSD, complete with diagrams of its molecular structure. The audience ate it up and shouted for more.
They asked him when he had last taken the chemical and he said it was seven years ago, a 100 micromilligram dose.
They wanted to know where LSD research is being done now—it has been tightly restricted since the mid-60s acid explosion—and he referred vaguely to work being done in Europe and, through the Food and Drug Administration, in the United States.
One questioner wanted to know Hofmann's opinion whether LSD is a dangerous drug.
"No one has ever died of LSD," he answered, "but many things can happen, like jumping out of the window and other accidents. LSD can have very bad effects if you are not prepared for the experience. "The activity of the Central Intelligence Agency in giving LSD to experimental subjects without telling them what they were getting into is an example of the wrong way to use the chemical," be said.
Later, at an informal meeting after the speech. Hofmann recommended that LSD be made available to responsible users. He suggested that medical professionals, psychologists, and native American shamans and healers have the kind of experience required.
Among those present for the weekend seminar on "LSD—the Second Generation," sponsored by the University, two book publishers and a Santa Cruz group called the Network, were the leaders of America's psychedelic revolution of the 60s.
There was nostaglia by the bucketful as the psychologists who started it all—Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (now the teacher Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzner—met for the first time in 10 years. They hugged and swapped stories amid a circle of admirers.
Leary immediately showed Ram Dass a newspaper clipping, telling how the very professor who got them fired from Harvard for experimenting with students on LSD had himself taken money from a CIA front that subsidized LSD research.
"It couldn't happen to a nicer fellow," grinned Ram Dass.
Leary was in top form, wisecracking and joking just as though he hadn't been to prison, chased half way around the world and eventually shunned by some friends for activities linked to his work with LSD.
"The LSD movement was started by the CIA," he cackled. "I wouldn't be here now without the foresight of the CIA scientists. It is no accident - it was all planned and scripted by the central intelligence, and I'm all in favor of central intelligence."
Warming to his task, he told interviewers, "Because of LSD we're getting smarter and better looking, flying higher and faster, making things more beautiful and becoming better lovers."
However, he said, "this conference is ridiculous, the business of getting high is female. It's amusing that there aren't more women here today; women have made LSD what it is."
Metzner, now teaching something called actualism meditation in The City, was more modest in his claims for LSD. It's a great tool for "opening up awareness and consciousness," he said; but because most psychiatrists and psychologists had failed to study the chemical. Its real value Is still to be found.
"We're in a holding pattern now," and it will be 10 to 15 years before full scale research is resumed," he said.
The "holding pattern" broke formation briefly at Santa Cruz for a weekend party, at which Hofmann was acknowledged as the grandfather of the acid movement.
One of his "family" approached at a reception following the speech. She was a dark-haired girl of about 10. dressed in slacks and a tube top, and she carried a small spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen.
After waiting patiently for several minutes she finally got Hofmann's attention and handed him the notebook.
"Dr. Hofmann," she said, "I was born on LSD. Can I have your autograph?"
The doctor may not have understood what the girl meant—that her mother had taken LSD before giving birth. But he signed with pleasure.
October 16, 1977